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Helping the little guy

Jules Pieri’s website showcases products that may not make it to mass market

Joanne Domeniconi, Jeanne Connon, and Jules Pieri (from left in left photo) test products in the Daily Grommet office in Lexington. Joanne Domeniconi, Jeanne Connon, and Jules Pieri (from left in left photo) test products in the Daily Grommet office in Lexington. (Photos By Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
By Liza Weisstuch
Globe Correspondent / November 26, 2009

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What fascinates Jules Pieri doesn’t have to be exotic or intricate. If a product - be it a gadget, a natural remedy, an edible goodie, or a variation on a household staple - is attached to a back story, she’s smitten. Pieri is founder and CEO of Daily Grommet (www.dailygrommet.com), a website that’s equal parts online marketplace, video library, and social network for anyone who’s ever sought a practical solution to everyday puzzles. Pieri is both household curator, culling through piles of noteworthy inventions and creations that lie just under the mass market’s radar, and casual anthropologist, uncovering tales that chronicle modern innovation.

“People are tired of nameless, faceless things,’’ said Pieri. She’s in Daily Grommet’s headquarters, a Victorian house on a quiet street in Lexington. “People work hard for their money and want to purchase products they care about or that support their values, like sustainability. We have a medium for offering information on that, finally - and it’s not just social media, but video.’’

Pieri is interested in the unique vision behind products made by independent producers rather than mass-market behemoths. “You can see how that gets lost in retail for so many reasons, like space constraints and economic constraints. Stores need volume, but the more interesting products are found in the long tail,’’ said Pieri, drawing a bell curve and pointing out that the interest in small-business-driven efforts can potentially have as broad a reach as mass-produced goods. In that sense, Daily Grommet’s mission dovetails with trends seen in other consumer realms, like the surging interest in buying produce or meat directly from farmers.

Before launching the site, Pieri was the president of Ziggs.com, a social networking site for professionals. She has a keen sense of people’s appetite for sharing news and tips through social media. But she’s formally trained as an industrial designer and worked with Hasbro’s PlaySkool brand and shoe company Keds. She has a deep appreciation for a designer’s respect for materials or resourcefulness, as is evident as she shows a few of the things crammed on a metal shelving unit in the office. Forget to take your medicine on time? There’s a pill bottle with a light that blinks on a timer. Can’t fit a garden on your fire escape? Plants thrive in soft plastic planters that can hang on walls or fences. One company hawks natural shaving oil in a bottle about the size of a ChapStick tube.

Of course, Pieri and her team do showcase innovations of some market Goliaths (Google Voice is an example), but most of the products are conceived by entrepreneurs who welcome the exposure. Pieri uses words like “amplification’’ or “liftoff’’ to describe the Daily Grommet effect. In addition to commercial opportunities (many products end up getting noticed by retail stores’ wholesale buyers or QVC scouts), the online forum is a means of market research for inventors.

Jackson Madnick of Wayland spent six years developing Pearl’s Premium Grass Seed, a low-maintenance grass seed that requires no cutting, watering or environmentally harmful fertilizers. “The fact is Daily Grommet’s whole goal is to support small businesses. It was useful for us because it’s just a matter of telling our story,’’ he said. “What was fun and interesting was the online interaction. People chimed in from all over the world asking about our product - where and how it worked or didn’t - and I could give them information.’’

To Pieri, it’s all part of opening up of the marketplace, a stark difference from her corporate days. “It’s about the democratization of innovation.’’